Phantom Thread

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Daniel Day‑Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Brian Gleeson

Words: Christian Abbott

Writer, director and cinematographer, Paul Thomas Anderson, has proven that he has his filmmaking down to a science.
His latest work, Phantom Thread, feels like the culmination of Anderson’s oeuvre, weaving together the various genres we’ve seen him perfect before, from screwball comedy to character-study dramas. Anderson’s previous work, Inherent Vice, attempted this consensus of ideas also in a knowing lack of comprehension. Yet, now with his latest, he has secured his position as one of the greatest filmmakers working today.

It is no surprise though that most of the excitement, or bittersweet anticipation, towards the film has come from the announcement that it would be Daniel Day-Lewis’s last. He has re-teamed with Anderson for his final performance – the cantankerous, piercing yet oddly charming Reynolds Woodcock – a dress-maker in 1950s Britain. Day-Lewis has played roles similar to this in the past, yet manages to be completely unrecognisable in the role, transforming himself into a quiet yet imposing figure.

We find him in a state of frustration and unease over the changing landscape of fashion – the burgeoning European world of chic. He lives a life of order and rigorous scheduling with absolutely no deviation. Living and working in his London house, he has a legion of women that put together the dresses he designs on the day to day. Above all, he lives with Cyril, his “old so-in-so”, sister and manager of sorts played brilliantly with a stern cunning by Lesley Manville. It soon becomes clear that Woodcock lives a cyclical life, a rotating door of relationships to which he seduces into his lifestyle then soon tires.

This is where Alma comes into the picture, Woodcock’s latest muse played effortlessly by Vicky Krieps. Again Woodcock finds himself admiring her uniqueness that even she wasn’t aware of, bringing her into his world – yet soon he finds her more of a match than any partner before. Krieps manages to bring this charming earnestness to her performance that slowly transforms into a dominating position of manipulative power. Throughout Day-Lewis and Krieps bounce off one-another with increasing levels of tension, building effortlessly from comedic awkwardness to genuinely disturbing moments of unease.

Aiding this is Anderson’s cinematography throughout, weaving his camera through the corridors of Woodcock’s house with as much grace and decorum as Woodcock himself. His camera often feels invasive and unsettling – providing a different view into one of his worlds than we’ve seen before. Framing characters within frames and locking the camera on the hood of Woodcock’s car as it speeds across town.

Along with this is the score by Jonny Greenwood, orchestral, brooding and menacing – seemingly at odds with the film’s often comedic moments – perhaps reminding us that beneath it all is a wounded man trying in vain to fill a mother shaped hole in his life. This disconnect creates an otherworldly strangeness to the film. There is a lure and intrigue to the bizarre which Anderson exploits in his screenplay.
But, if this is Daniel Day-Lewis’s final performance, then it is the perfect swansong to close on one of cinema’s most illustrious careers.